Browse Tag: tokenization

Tokenization is Oppression’s Most Powerful Weapon: My Thoughts on Storify

Tokenization is Oppression’s Most Powerful Weapon

The other day, I was reflecting on tokenization and shared a few of my thoughts. I often tweet when I should be writing, which is why storify is a great tool for someone like me who’s very busy, and doesn’t always have time (read: procrastinates) to write full essays.

Storified by Spectra Speaks · Sat, May 19 2012 14:34:47

The folks at @openforum2012 (OSISA) asked me to share my thoughts as it’s relevant to the conference they’re convening in Capetown next week. So, you have them to thank (or chastize) for my stream of consciousness. 
My ppl are excluded, I speak on it, powers that be try to silence me, give up once they realize it won’t work, deploy tokenization insteadSpectra Speaks
Tokenization is one of my biggest gripes; and I’m not just talking about the ridiculous idea of having one person rep an entire group…Spectra Speaks
Tokenization fragments communities. It is the tactic that is deployed once the powers that be realize we won’t shut up — divide and conquerSpectra Speaks
Tokenization is how our unity is tested; can we stand together in the face of oppressors throwing scraps at our feet for us to fight over?Spectra Speaks
#Tokenization is tricky because it’s often presented as a solution i.e. "we’re trying." And so we’re guilted into accepting it. RESIST.Spectra Speaks
Beyond the obvious fact that we shouldn’t expect one person to represent entire communities, #tokenization is a sedative of a solution.Spectra Speaks
#Tokenization is the reason many white people have the audacity to suggest the US is now "post-racial" a la "Obama is black." No.Spectra Speaks
#Tokenization is the reason the mainstream gay community thinks #ChazBono celebdom means there’s no more transphobia.Spectra Speaks
#Tokenization is a sedative, not a solution.Spectra Speaks
#Tokenization attempts to create the illusion of progress; it ridicules our demands for change with examples of those "who made it"Spectra Speaks
But #tokenization can be confusing; how to distinguish between a small step towards progress we can support, and a downright lie?Spectra Speaks
And so we scratch our heads, fight amongst ourselves because we can’t agree on whether or not we believe the lie #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
#Tokenization dulls our senses, distorts our view of who the real enemy is; we’re blinded, and so begin to swing blindly at our brethren.Spectra Speaks
Meanwhile, the powers at be proceed w/ their agenda, the task of silencing us conveniently delegated to our brethren. #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
Amidst the noise, some of us will realize what is happening, and pause. We shouldn’t be fighting amongst ourselves. #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
See the they’re not winning through force anymore; they can’t. They’re winning by making us fight over limited resources. #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
I have three cats. Three feeding stations. When I get lazy, and fill just one, something very familiar happens… #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
My cats start to hiss and swipe at each other in an attempt to reach the first bowl quicker than the others… #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
This ‘movement’ thing is getting to me. I now see my communities reflected in hissing and spitting among my hungry cats. #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
The thing is… they’re not just cats. I’m pretty sure if they banded together in anger I’d be in serious trouble. #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
Unity only works if we stand together, no matter what. Not a single one of us should ever break the line to reach for scraps #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
Maybe a holding a ‘line’ over simplifies what unity means, at least to me. We’re not all shackled in the same way. #tokenization #privilegeSpectra Speaks
When you "hold the line" in battle, there’s an entire camp of people behind you. We’re protecting/advocating for each other. #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
Moral of the story: We need to hold the line. But we can’t hold the line if we’re running the same shit camp as our oppressors #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
We can’t be united if we’re so quick to reach for scraps, leave others behind because those w/ privilege decide agenda. #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
We cannot resist the fragmenting impact of #tokenization at any level, until we learn to see ourselves as privileged in some way.Spectra Speaks
For #tokenization to work, it depends on many of us submitting to being victims all the time; prioritizing OUR needs just to survive.Spectra Speaks
Perhaps this means I should finish my essay about what we can learn about #tokenization from visiting the zoo?Spectra Speaks
A few others on Twitter chimed in to echo some of my thoughts, including two of my favorite African Feminists, MsAfropolitan and the founder of 419Positive. In particular, we’d chatted about the lack of visibility (in male-dominated Nigerian and western media) of Nigerian women in the occupy movement a few months prior, which quickly spiraled into a divisive debate between African women on the continent and the Diaspora living abroad. 
Now reading @spectraspeaks #tokenization tweets. Powerful truthful words. #AfrifemMinna Salami
@spectraspeaks @MsAfropolitan Thanks. Puts the disagreement over ‘missing’ women at #OccupyNigeria into context. #tokenization #Afrifemrmajayi
@spectraspeaks @MsAfropolitan Minna & others had questioned the absence of women as evidenced in the photos available #tokenization #Afrifemrmajayi
@spectraspeaks @MsAfropolitan on ground. The women felt Minna, others had no place to ‘criticise’ because they were abroad. #tokenizationrmajayi
Meanwhile, the men had somehow weasled their way out of the conversation. Someone saw the twitter debate happening, and scrounged up some pictures to post, effectively suggesting that our questioning had been unwarranted, invalidating our concern. “See!? They’re women here!” And the women chimed in, too.
@rmajayi @spectraspeaks Yup. Women can be staunch defenders of patriarchy& villainize women who disrupt gender "harmony".also #tokenizationMinna Salami
@rmajayi @spectraspeaks Re the occupy tweets I jumped into a convo that was already taking place #tokenizationMinna Salami
@rmajayi @spectraspeaks & jumped out when it became clear that folks wanted 2 attack ‘abroadians’ rather than focus on d issue #tokenizationMinna Salami
@rmajayi @spectraspeaks What felt important was 2 prevent the #tokenization western media would bring by debating gender roles…Minna Salami
@rmajayi @spectraspeaks …in the protests before that convo took place amongst Nigerians themselves #tokenizationMinna Salami
@rmajayi @MsAfropolitan One of the effects of #tokenization: advocacy sounds like criticism, provoking defensiveness, quarrel within groupsSpectra Speaks
@MsAfropolitan @rmajayi No one wants to feel like their value is being reduced to puppetry by the oppressor. Hence #tokenization is tricky.Spectra Speaks
@MsAfropolitan @rmajayi Important to have convos that don’t instigate the blame game. Fighting each other means we lose. #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
@spectraspeaks @rmajayi Yes, I like that point you made. & not only privilege; can be misused as #tokenization in itself. Honesty, allroundMinna Salami
@spectraspeaks @rmajayi How to foster such dialogue? Think one thing is to be aware of tensions within ourselves we all have #tokenizationMinna Salami
@MsAfropolitan @rmajayi Agreed. Tweeted earlier abt acknowledging privilege within "the line" to work towards real solidarity #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
@spectraspeaks @rmajayi & that we speak to each other from. Who can claim ownership? #tokenizationMinna Salami
@MsAfropolitan @rmajayi Man, I don’t think Twitter can hold all the feelings I have about #diaspora abroad vs. home tensions #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
@spectraspeaks @rmajayi Yes, I like that point you made. & not only privilege; can be misused as #tokenization in itself. Honesty, allroundMinna Salami
@spectraspeaks So true, same. I’m looking fwd to having these conversations in the flesh next week. Stay tuned @rmajayi #tokenizationMinna Salami
Let’s continue the conversation. Follow me @spectraspeaks and share your thoughts on #tokenization

Spectra is an award-winning Nigerian writer, women’s rights activist, and the voice behind the African feminist media blog, Spectra Speaks, which publishes global news and opinions about all things gender, media, diversity, and the Diaspora.

She is also the founder of Queer Women of Color Media Wire (, a media advocacy and publishing organization that amplifies the voices of lesbian, bisexual, queer, and/or transgender women of color, diaspora, and other racial/ethnic minorities around the world.

Follow her tweets on diversity, movement-building, and love as a revolution on Twitter @spectraspeaks.

A Letter To My Plagiarist

As National Poetry Month draws to a close, I thought it only appropriate to post this response to the plagiarist who thought they could get away with stealing my words.

I admit that I wrestled with responding at all; the pain of knowing that a fellow African LGBT activist, who I knew personally, had done this to me was a lot to bear. In the wake of David Kato’s murder, a prominent LGBT Ugandan activist that was murdered in January, the last thing that I needed — that the Queer African movement needed — was internal conflict. Aside from the infuriating suggestions from people (including other writers– wow) that I “let it slide for the greater good”, I just couldn’t shake the feeling, that my words — the only things I have in this world — had been taken from me. I felt violated.

At one point, I had to say it out loud to believe it, “I’ve just been plagiarized, blatantly, by someone who knows me.” Seriously, verbatim. This woman (who was a journalist so couldn’t claim to not know better) had lifted a whole three paragraphs from the blog post I’d written about David Kato and read it as part of a speech in public forum (at a vigil held in NYC in his honor – starts at 2:00 min), no citation, no credit, no mention that her speech even contained excerpts from an ‘unnamed’ source. I found out in the worst way possible, on effin Twitter. I happened to click on a link to video coverage of the event she spoke at in NYC and there she was, speaking my words verbatim, being so inspiring it took me a few takes to realize why her words resonated so much… they were mine. Wow.

Of course I confronted her about it. I sent her a very nice but stern email that said I know what she’d done and I was giving her a window to take responsibility, apologize, and do something about it i.e. email the media outlets that quoted her with my words in my mouth and ask them to make corrections AND post in a public place (her blog for instance) that she’d taken my words without permission and was going to give appropriate credit to make it right.

At first she apologized and agreed to make things right, but then she did a switcharoo, all of a sudden getting annoyed that I was making all these “demands” of her and decided she was going to investigate on her own if she’d actually done anything wrong. Despite her new-found confidence in barreling through the issue without taking responsibility, I gave her several more chances after that. But all she ended up doing, to add insult to injury, was put up this deliberately condescending message about how trials as an activist on the day she had to give that speech, and oh by the way here’s this person Spectra who writes about Africa even though she doesn’t live there, and here is a link to her blog. I’m linking her here to “lift her up with visibility.” I was LIVID. But also incredibly hurt.

The experience, I admit, shook me. I only just realized recently that I hadn’t been writing and sharing as much content online. The fear of violation like that again, even the fear of being accused of not thinking about the “bigger picture” (i.e. going after a ‘fellow’ whatever) held me back; it become a subconscious trigger anytime I was about to post something online. I’m a writer first before anything else. I don’t want my words stolen. And certainly not from people who claimed to love, admire, care about me. But I’m done with the silence. It’s stifling. I’ll have no more of it.

Aren’t I the person that always tells it like it is, regardless of which ‘community’ I’m supposed to be aligned it? Aren’t I miss warrior woman, outspoken, no-bullshit, no-nonsense, no tolerance for injustice? If I don’t stand up to a bloody cyber plagiarist, then I fail all those people I’m constantly encouraging to speak up — writers, artists who believe their work is important enough to protect, to value, activists who feel trapped by petty politics, anyone who’s ever felt betrayed or violated by people that are supposed to be supporting them.

We must speak out against bad behavior, even within our movements. In doing so, we will find strength and healing we didn’t know was there, like I have. It is too important that we hold our communities — and each other — accountable, lest we begin to silence among ourselves.


Dear Plagiarist,

I must admit, you swept me off my feet.
Charmed me with flattery,
used words like “passionate”, “prolific”,
game changer, you seduced me,
sanctioned the urgency in my voice
just when I’d’ begun to shrink under the weight of accusations,
“aggressions unwarranted,” they said
even though our people were dying;
this “angry black woman” was on the brink of depression when you showed up,
offering verbal bouquets in my mother tongue.
You spoke friend, and I listened,
awakened my senses so that I could smell the bullshit from these white people
who only loved me when I was tame,
only loved me when I was game for banter,
could only stomach me placed neatly between the black and white lines of their own agenda
— I spit at their podiums.

But you…
I felt like I knew you.
Your accent, thick with struggle through colonial diction,
that awkward ensemble of western clothing gave you away
an immigrant attempting to recreate themselves in a foreign country,
I stood under you when you needed uplifting,
welcomed you into my house, unsuspecting
I fed you. Nurtured you when I myself was starving,
simply because I was thankful for the company,
for the ability to lock eyes in a sea of white guys who misused the truth for their own gains;
“We are Africans, the longest surviving population on the planet,”
I proclaimed, “… and we don’t need saving.”
We need solidarity.

In the aftermath, I wrote:
“David Kato, in the face of violence, we must never abandon hope for fear.”
…in the face of violence, we must never abandon hope for fear,
and you cheered for me in private,
clapped your ashy hands at the gall of this Naija woman
to inspire healing through pain as ego clouded your vigil;
you pounded your fist on the table as I vowed to share the truth,
that these westerners preached too god damn much to listen,
gave our fathers reason to say, “Homophobia is a white man’s problem.”

So I didn’t mind when your sound bites
had bitten off too many of mine
We were sisters, and what was mine was yours,
but when I heard the media applaud your thievery I saw it plainly:
my sister had maimed me,
ripped words like cheap clothes from my naked body,
and waved them in the air for glory.
You betrayed me.
I didn’t see it coming.

But see, the thing about being a warrior woman
is that I’ve been bitten one time too many
by snakes disguised as allies standing right next to me;
You must bleed to beat the poison,
You must bleed to win.

Val Kalende — What, thought I wouldn’t put you on blast?

At your best you were a thief,
impostor playing journalist stealing other people’s stories,
media sob story turned professional token — you have lost your footing
and now, your head bows low enough to be petted by the same jokers I wipe the floor with,
the same cowards who cower under the bass of my voice when they piss me the fuck off.

…and trust me when I say, that I am pissed the fuck off.

If you thought I would go sulk in a corner
a good girl ashamed to report her abuser
for fear of being accused of seeking media attention
damaging your “stellar” reputation out of envy,
then you must not know me.

I am a warrior woman,
a freedom fighter, truth seeker,
liberator of all who’ve been double-crossed by oppression,
I will make an example of you.
Run and hide behind the podiums these white people have given you,
a house kennel for the stray dog that you are
— no rhetoric will shield you, no eulogy will save you —
You will NOT escape my wrath.

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